September 23, 2013 by Ville Raivio
‘I am 44 years old. I run and teach at my own school of bespoke shoe making and also make classic bespoke shoes for private clients. I have graduated from Cordwainers College in London. I have a 14 year-old-son. He is very understanding of my work and tries not to be so demanding of my time when I have to work late to meet a deadline. He is interested in shoe making but I’m not sure if he wants to be a shoemaker in the future. My parents never really expressed any particular view on my work as shoemaker or designer. I think they were happy though when I found something which interested me as I had been quite a crazy teen by Japanese standards.
My father even made space for me in his company so that I could launch my shoe business from there once I returned from England, so I guess they supported me in that quite traditional Japanese way. I play the guitar. Music has always been an inspiration and given me great joy over the years. I have an extensive collection of original Blue Note jazz and ska records. When I was younger I played Jazz trumpet and even made a single with the band I was with. The most important aspect [of my style] is how my clothes fit, they should also match my character. My favorite style is Tailored, of course.
When I was kid, my house job was polishing the shoes for my family. That was the time I became interested in shoes, I always wondered how shoes were made. I also thought that shoes are so beautiful and I fell in love with them. When I graduated from a Japanese university, I worked at a shoe company as a designer. I didn’t know how to become a shoemaker. So I thought if I became a shoe designer, I could meet shoe makers and learn from them.
But Factory shoemaking was not what I was looking for. So I quit the company and found a shoemaking workshop where I could begin to learn how to make shoes by hand. I was at the workshop for 2 years. But I wanted to learn a more classic style of shoemaking. I had seen the shoes in John Lobb’s store in Ginza and they had a profound effect on me, I wanted to be able to make shoes like that. It gave me a strong desire to become a shoemaker at John Lobb’s. So I decided to go to England and learn the techniques of classic shoemaking. I went to the Cordwainers college and learned shoemaking. During that time I had work experience at John Lobb. And after I graduated I was able to get a job there. I learned every part of shoemaking from beginning to end at John Lobb’s.
It takes 5 highly skilled people to make 1 pair of bespoke shoes. But I wanted to be able to take the making through every step of the process myself. So I thought I should open my own shop. I also wanted to introduce the English style of shoemaking to Japan. First I started a shoemaking school. And the next year I started my own Bespoke shoe line catering to the needs of individual private customers. I didn’t have any goals really; I just love to make shoes. Bespoke shoemaking is so deep. People have got two feet. Nobody has the same left and right feet. 10 people have 20 different feet. And every person has a different taste in shoes. So I learn many new things every day, it is never-ending. I want to be able to pass my knowledge and experience on to the next generation.
I haven’t got my own house style. I make the shoes that the customer wants. I try to hide my opinion until unless customer asks me specifically for suggestions. I make my shoes for the customer, not for me. So I don’t feel the need for a house style. My favourite model is Oxford. Oxford has very beautiful lines. None of the lines are wasted in Oxford shoes. The lines are simple, classic and beautiful; it is, I feel, the most functional of designs. The shoes I make are one-off originals; they are chosen by the customer and made to measure — there are no two pairs of my shoes alike.
I think the most important thing about shoes is the fitting. I meet every customer and discuss their lifestyle, taste and any problems they have had with badly fitting shoes in the past. Then I will make their shoes. I am in control of the whole process from taking their measurements to making make a pair of Lasts. I draw the design, make the pattern, do the closing, and make the shoes. At all times throughout this process I consider the customer’s needs. Most people try to fit their feet to the shoes they like and so they can often damage their feet for the sake of style. With my shoes, they are made solely with the feet of the customer in mind, allowing the feet to remain free and comfortable without causing pain or damage.
[My advice:] people should consider their feet and the fitting of their shoes. Most people don’t understand about the importance of their feet to their general wellbeing. The foot has 26 bones. Each person’s bones have different sizes. But people who shop at readymade stores must choose shoes in size selections, so most people wear shoes which are too big or too small.
Bespoke shoes are your partner in life. If your shoes are uncomfortable, you may feel good on the outside to be wearing a stylish shoe, but physically you are causing yourself a lot of problems that may cause pain and discomfort for years to come.
With bespoke shoes, you don’t have stress from your feet. They are beautiful, each one is a work of art and love, shoes like these make you happy. When you are tired, your eye goes down, then you see your beautiful bespoke shoes and definitely you will smile.’
Photos: © Yukiko Okawa Bassett